Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Battle of Rights


This cartoon illustrates the controversy of abortion policies, which is heavily debated by courts, religious leaders, and the public.

Right to life or right to choice?

Reproductive rights continue to be one of the most controversial and widely debated topics in the broad spectrum of human rights issues. Because of deviating governmental policies regarding abortions and contraceptives that are in place from country to country, there has been a strong need to address these issues as human rights rather than just laws. Religion, tradition, and public opinion seem to be the driving factors in determining the legality of birth control in different regions of the world. In much of Latin America, abortions remain illegal unless the mother's life is at risk (see world map below). Other forms of birth control including emergency contraceptives have their own policies in terms of legality and access. In Argentina, reproductive rights have shifted into focus for human rights activists, either in support for the right to life or the right to choice. Just as the opinions have differed, in the past few decades the Argentine policies have differed as well.

A world map showing the national abortion policies across the globe. Dark red shows countries that prohibit abortions altogether; lighter red signifies permission to abortion in order to protect life and health; lightest red shows countries that add mental health as a justification; light green countries allow abortions on socio-economic grounds as well; dark green signifies countries with minimal restrictions on obtaining an abortion. Note that, in general, Latin American countries hold very strict abortion policies.

In the past, Argentina has followed the Latin American trend of having zero tolerance for birth control. Daily birth control pills were unacceptable, emergency contraceptives were inaccessible, and abortions were inexcusable, not to mention highly illegal. Women did not have the right to choose and were often treated as an instrument of reproduction rather than a human being. In addition, even reproductive health care was seen as unnatural and immoral. Though advancements in reproductive rights have been stalled by religious activists and public health officials who oppose contraception, the Argentine government has made some steps in addressing these issues. In the last three decades, the growth of democracy in Argentina as well as an increase in women's political participation has provided an opportunity for the public to affect reproductive rights and national policies regarding contraceptives and abortion. Gradually, birth control has become more common and abortion is legal under certain circumstances. Though these reformed policies in Argentina may be more liberal than the policies of several other countries in Latin America, they are still very restrictive compared to many other regions in the world.

Even today, women in Argentina are oppressed by the law with regard to reproductive rights. For example, emergency contraceptive pills are very difficult to obtain. This restriction leaves a woman with very few options if a primary contraceptive, such as birth control pills or a condom, happens to fail. In many countries, mostly of Western culture, the woman has the right to consider and pursue a safe, legal abortion. However, with respect to many Latin American countries, even the thought of obtaining an abortion is immoral, and frankly irrational. Though the Argentine policies on reproductive rights have been undergoing reform, the changes are quite mild and negligible. Abortions are still strictly prohibited in Argentina unless the woman is a victim of rape, there's an obvious fetal defect, or the health of the mother is in question. This is a marginal improvement in reproductive rights since the strong majority of unplanned births do not fall within these circumstances. Even for those women who do "qualify" for an abortion and are protected by the law, there are still several obstacles that may cause problems in pursuing the abortion.

The new legal state of abortion does not necessarily replace the traditional ideology that is still very prevalent across Argentina. Religious or moral beliefs may cause some members of the Argentine community to publicly resent abortions or the use of other contraceptives. In extreme cases, a woman could be terminated from their employment, removed from a community group, or excommunicated from their church because of their practice of reproductive rights. Because of these factors, women that may be seeking an abortion in Argentina face an overwhelming barrage of social obstacles. Aside from these social factors, an Argentine woman that is seeking an abortion may also be hindered by reproductive health issues.

This chart shows the statistics of under-registration of maternal deaths in Argentina, which can indicate deaths caused by abortions that were performed either unprofessionally or incorrectly.SciELOPublicHealth

According to the Panamerican Health Organization, the leading cause of maternal death in Argentina is abortion, which is a trend shared by many Latin American countries. Social pressure can lead a woman to perform an abortion on herself, which creates obvious health threats. However, even women that seek an abortion at a medical facility in Argentina face many risks. The medical training in Argentina for physicians that perform abortions is scarce, unregulated, and sometimes outdated. It wasn't until 2007 that the procedural guidelines of international human rights standards and the World Health Organization were implemented by the federal Ministry of Health. Even after that, training was inconsistent since specific abortion policies vary between provinces. In 2009, the province of Santa Fe was the first to begin use of comprehensive guidelines for performing safe abortions. Though improvements in reproductive health are being made, these advancements are progressing at a painfully slow pace.

Not only are reproductive rights continuing to be violated, but maternity deaths due to unsafe abortions are still high as well. Human rights activists demand that the Argentine government review its prevention policies and consider alternative solutions. For example, instead of paying subsidies to large families, the government could sponsor and distribute free contraceptives to the many poor women who cannot afford these commodities in the first place. Another service that the government could provide is free information seminars for young women, which could help to educate these people so that they can make better decision regarding sexual relations. Advocates of reproductive rights argue that every woman has the right to accurate information as well as options for birth control. These essential rights could be provided in an economical manner if the government used a single organization for distributing the contraceptives and the information (similar to the organization in the United States, Planned Parenthood). As the Argentine government recently has made leaps in addressing human rights issues in general, it must continue to do so with regards to reproductive rights, which still trail far behind modern standards set in other regions of the world. In the eyes of reproductive rights supporters, it is an issue of prevention, access, and safety for the Argentine women. Without stronger support from the government, these women will continue to face social obstacles that violate their rights as well as health risks that threaten their lives.

Activists for reformed reproductive rights state their opinion.Human Rights Watch

*Note: This post does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the writer; rather, it expresses a human rights perspective and portrays the information that was gathered in research.*

Works Cited:
"Argentina Human Rights Watch." Home Human Rights Watch. Web. 28 July 2010. .

Center for Reproductive Rights. Web. 28 July 2010. .

"Decisions Denied Human Rights Watch." Home Human Rights Watch. 14 June 2005. Web. 29 July 2010. .

Karolinski, Ariel. "Bulletin of the World Health Organization - A Comprehensive Assessment of Maternal Deaths in Argentina: Translating Multicentre Collaborative Research into Action." SciELO - Health Public. 21 Nov. 2006. Web. 29 July 2010. .

"Who's to Blame for the Abortion Stalemate?" Polls Boutique. 18 Nov. 2008. Web. 29 July 2010. .

"Women in Argentina." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 28 May 2010. Web. 29 July 2010. .

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